Cymru Castles: Our top 10 best castles in Wales
It’s time for you and your troop to truly prove your mettle. How so? By travelling back in time with us to explore the best castles in Wales - 10 of them, in fact. We’re not saying it won’t be dangerous; there could be enemy hordes on the horizon or fire-breathing dragons swooping down from the heavens! Whatever challenges lay ahead though, we believe you’re the family to save the day.
Grab your sword, say goodbye to the present day and join us on an adventure! Here are our top 10 best castles in Wales.
Caernarfon Castle, CaernarfonOf all the Welsh castles, this is perhaps the mightiest. Caernarfon Castle is essentially the pit bull of the fort world with big, beefy stone walls in place of muscles and towering turrets where fangs would be. Much like a lot of pit bulls though, it’s friendlier than it looks and welcomes visitors in for a nosy. It was built under King Edward I and has gained World Heritage status, probably down to the amazing polygonal towers, the Eagle Tower being the most magnificent of these. A Roman fort once stood nearby too, so it’s been an important hub of history for years and years!
Best for: A healthy serving of military history at The Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum. It’s housed in two towers of the castle and will get your brood fully up to speed on what life was like for an ordinary soldier throughout the ages, including having a gander at their uniforms and medals.
Cardiff Castle, CardiffIt was only a matter of time before we got to Cardiff Castle. It’s the most, or at least one of the most famous castles in Wales and is sat slap bang in the centre of the capital city. There’s so much going on, firstly in terms of history; Romans, Normans and Victorians set up shop here over 2,000 years, plus it was a community shelter during the WWII airstrikes. Today families can get stuck in with workshops, costumed characters, dressing up (our personal favourite) and kid-friendly audio tours. Banquo the earless dog will lead them on their way with his specialist subject: the Animal Tour.
Best for: Joust! There are frequent events held here throughout the year but this has got to be the best of them. The Knights of Royal England come and do exactly what it says on the tin - Joust! - while stunts, storytelling and strolling musicians fill the grounds.
Picton Castle, HaverfordwestPicton Castle is surrounded by 40 acres of lovely woodland gardens where you can walk amongst some of the oldest and largest trees in Wales. In the spring there are oodles of fresh flowers and throughout the year families can lose themselves in a dense, leafy maze. The castle itself is from the 13th century and you can explore its winding walkways with the help of a guided tour - that includes tales of daring exploits and adventure which are sure to inspire the dreamers in your family. You might even have to keep an eye out for suitable sticks on the walk as they double up nicely as props for a dramatic reenactment.
Best for: The Secret Owl Garden. Tucked away along the Bluebell Walk, they have the largest collection of owls in Wales with 25 different species and several specially designed aviaries. Kids can make like Harry Potter with flying sessions or get crafty in their arts den.
Castell Coch, CardiffLike a lot of Welsh castles, Castell Coch has ancient foundations but none have quite the same fairytale factor. High Gothic in style, it was designed by an eccentric - and very well funded - Victorian with somewhat of a penchant for elaborate architecture. He took all his favourite elements and created a fantastical structure with over-the-top furnishings and dazzling ceilings. Even the title, which translates as ‘Red Castle’, conjures up poetic imagery so why not take a flight of fancy with a day out at this Welsh wonder? It’s also got great resources for SEN visitors with a mix of multi-sensory activities.
Best for: A fairy spotting trail! Magic comes in all forms and here they help it along with augmented reality tech. Simply download an app and play eye spy with a series of hidden fairies all over the site. They all have traditional Welsh names and if you find each and every one, you win a special prize.
Caldicot Castle, CaldicotFounded by the Normans, developed as a stronghold in the Middle Ages and ultimately restored as a family home in the Victorian era, Caldicot Castle has gone through a lot of different chapters in its long history. Today you can tour them all with an audio guide, climb to the top of the battlements or simply ramble through the wooded country park - a picnic wouldn’t go amiss either! Monmouthshire - the local area - is also known around the world for stargazing so if it’s not too far past bedtime, get your brood bundled up and stare up at the night sky.
Best for: Their brilliant Children’s Activity Station. It’s stacked with puzzles, games and slightly more left of field: a tree and leaf identification guide. Kids will even have the chance to make their own mini castle to take home.
Caerphilly Castle, CaerphillyKnown as the 'slumbering giant', Caerphilly Castle dominates the local skyline and has been used for all sorts of film shoots eg. the TV series, Merlin. It’s also another of those Welsh castles that has all the hallmarks of long gone opulence combined with a serious military backbone - check out those moats, plural! With its stark, stone walls and rolling hills in the background, it’s the perfect setting for a family performance with plenty of room to dash around.
Best for: Much like Cardiff Castle, Caerphilly prides itself on its events. They’re held throughout the year and are always wild and wondrous affairs, like birds of prey days or meeting an ‘actual’ Dragon Whisperer. They’ll teach you how to train and care for your clawed companion should the opportunity ever present itself.
Penrhyn Castle, BangorPenrhyn Castle could well be one of the most tropical castles in Wales (to be fair the bar is quite low in that department) with a Victorian walled garden full of exotic trees and shrubs, as well as Bog Garden which is dominated by monstrous Gunnera plants. There are 60 acres of grounds to run around in - just don’t forget the castle itself! It’s a massive 19th-century, neo-Norman structure with lots of odd bits and bobs to see, for example, the 1-tonne slate bed that was made for Queen Victoria. The restored kitchens are also definitely worth a look, especially when you imagine the amazing dishes which would have been rustled up in there. Follow the Children’s Quiz trail to spy it all.
Best for: Both the model railway museum and a mini industrial railway museum. Train-loving tots can climb up onto an engine or stick their beak into the amazing cogs and mechanics that drive a train along its tracks.
Beaumaris Castle, BeaumarisBeaumaris Castle is one of the great unfinished masterpieces, in the world of Welsh castles that is. Sadly it ran out of money and supplies before it reached its full height but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular. Sat on the Island of Anglesey, it was originally built in 1295 as one of Edward I’s ‘Iron Ring’: a trio of strongholds built to ward off enemies. As such it’s one of the most technically perfect castles in the UK and, back in the day, would have welcomed boats right up to its open gates. That kind of high-tech design would have been a wonder when it was first built, almost as far removed as a spaceship landing alongside it in 2018!
Best for: All the gory details... The clever fella who designed this castle clearly wasn’t a very nice person as there are 14 separate and often deadly obstacles enemies would have to cross to take the castle. If your kids are old enough, they may well love hearing about the moat, the hidden arrow slits and… murder holes!
Pembroke Castle, PembrokeLet’s start by saying that Pembroke Castle has a pretty impressive claim to fame: it was the birthplace of Henry Tudor i.e. father to the infamous Henry VIII and grandfather to Elizabeth I. It’s no surprise then that it’s played a big part in shaping Welsh history, something you can learn all about in one of their super exhibitions or by trawling through its labyrinthine passageways, staircases and tunnels. Make sure you check out the 75-foot high keep or attend one of their many events which could involve storytelling, birds of prey or even dramatic battle reenactments depending on the day.
Best for: A subterranean adventure! By travelling down a spiral staircase, you’ll descend into Wogan Cavern: a limestone cave beneath the keep. Kids could imagine the brigands and beasties that dwelled down here during medieval times.
Abergavenny Castle & Museum, AbergavennyAbergavenny Castle is known for its bloody history and the fact that it was passed back and forth like nobody’s business! Both the Welsh and English rulers wanted it for themselves which meant the castle was actually destroyed and rebuilt at one point in history - what a bunch of babies! Speaking of small kids, today there’s a great activity room for children where they can cut, colour and stick to their heart’s content. In the meantime, grown-ups could go and check out the two towers to see the intriguing polygonal structure or to pretend they’re in Lord of the Rings… we never really grow up, so feel free!
Best for: Learning loads. Given this is both a ruin and a museum, resources are plentiful and the staff are always keen to lead workshops and show you around the exhibits which can be found on multiple levels. If your lot have any outstanding history projects this could well be the place for them.
We made it! After throwing ourselves in front of danger and saving no end of Kings and Queens from certain death, we’ve seen some of the very best castles in Wales. Not bad for a day’s work. If your family want to continue the adventure, take a look at our blog about the best castles in England or this review of Cardiff Castle. Oh, and take a peep at the links below. Good luck!